The Hollow Land

The Hollow Land

I’ve just finished reading The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam. I stumbled upon this book in a clear-out sale at my local library, having been attracted by Janet Rawlins’ sparse cover illustration.

First published as a children’s book in 1981, the book is a series of linked short stories about two families in Cumbria; one a farming family, the other regular holiday-makers from London. Reminiscent of Alan Garner’s The Stone Book,  Gardam’s stories are concerned with time and place, with the connections between generations and the land.

If you’ve read any of Gardam’s work you’ll know that she is a flawless writer of prose, and a great observer of people. The gentle pace of these stories draws you into the lives of the families, with a focus on the two youngest boys – Bell and Harry – and their engagement with The Hollow Land (a title drawn from the writings of William Morris).

Gardam writes eloquently about continuity and change, about belonging and being in place, about the past and possible futures. From the stone circle high in the hills, to the bronze age burial by the bridge, to the ghostly mother searching for her son, through childhood adventures and near-disasters, to a post-peak oil existence, Gardam guides us through the hills and the ages with a perfect footing.

Dr H

Stone Age Stories

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An article I wrote a while ago has just gone online on the English 4-11 website. The article reviews the books used by teachers for their caves topic with Year 2 children (ages 6-7).

The article’s aimed at teachers and school librarians, so there’s no analysis of the representation of prehistory in the stories (the only one to avoid stereotypes is Satoshi Kitamura’s excellent Stone Age Boy).

However, it is worth checking out for the pictures of the cave-dwellings made by the children in Year 2.

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Dr H

 

 

Wraithtown

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I’ve just finished reading another China Miéville book – Un Lun Dun.

This book is aimed at teenagers, but there’s plenty in it for adults too.

Set in an alter-London, the thing that most caught my imagination was Miéville’s description of Wraithtown (where the ghosts of Un Lun Dun live).
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“Each of the houses, halls, shops, factories, churches and temples was a core of brick, wood, concrete or whatever, surrounded by a wispy corona of earlier versions of itself. Every extension that had ever been built and knocked down, every smaller, squatter outline, every different design: all hung on to existence as spectres. Their insubstantial, colourless forms shimmered in and out of sight. Every building was cocooned in its older, dead selves.”

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As an archaeology student I was taught to see these spectral buildings and landscapes – ancient field systems, hut circles, hillforts, deserted villages. While digging at Clava, Richard Bradley taught us to look at landscape in a new way; to peel away the modern – the Victorian grove of trees, the towering aqueduct – to see the shape of the land, the way it might have been in prehistory.

For archaeologists, sometimes, it is the wraith buildings and landscapes that form the solid core, while the modern world flickers in and out of view.

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Dr H

Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood

Dr A and I recently got our hands on an episode of the Stones of Blood – part of the Keys to Time series of Doctor Who featuring Tom Baker (broadcast 1978).

This has a cracking archaeology-themed storyline, which proves beyond doubt the animacy of archaeological remains.

The first two episodes are especially enjoyable. Filmed on location at the Rollright Stones, they feature a Druidic cult, a Celtic goddess, menacing corvids and two female prehistorians. What’s not to like?

I hate to give away a whole plotline, but it doesn’t take long to guess from their tendency to glow in the dark and their thirst for human blood, that there’s more to these standing stones than simple calcium carbonate.

While there’s a good deal of silliness in the episodes, there’s a good dose of atmosphere and horror too. The outfits and rituals are pretty effective and the sequence where two campers encounter the stones would have given me nightmares for days if I’d seen it when I was a child. Archaeologists – think twice before you pitch your tent too close to that stone circle…

The episodes draw on folklore relating to standing stones, name drops several genuine archaeologists and presumably draws inspiration from the pinnacle of archaeological TV drama Children of the Stones, which aired in 1977 and was filmed on location at Avebury.

Animism and animacy are topics archaeologists (including Dr A) have explored in recent years. The stones and rocks in the landscape around you now may not be randomly glowing or craving your blood, but people have recently been bombarded by beach pebbles, flung at their streets and houses by stormy seas. As the storms in SW England have demonstrated, the world around us is far from passive.

Dr H

Read more about archaeology and science fiction on the blog here.

Round-up of the Year by Dr H

P1050917One of the highlights of 2013 for me has been Prehistories itself. We’re nearing our 1st birthday, and I’ve really had a lot of fun posting on the blog, reading comments and following up links to other peoples blogs.

Thank you to everyone who agreed to be willing victims in Ask an Archaeologist/ Ask an Artist/ Ask an Author. Everyone who’s taken part has given thoughtful, thought-provoking and entertaining answers. I really appreciate the time you’ve all taken over this feature.

Congratulations to artist Garen Ewing who won the Young People’s Comic Award for the Rainbow Orchid and to Sally Prue, whose book Song Hunter is on the long list for this year’s Carnegie Award.

I have really enjoyed exploring other people’s blogs too. News, opinion, creative engagement with archaeology. Check out the new links page (with more links to come).

A personal highlight for me has been seeing John Swogger’s artwork for One Girl goes Hunting take shape. Check out his latest image of Kat-ya. Awesome!

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More on this project in 2014…

Also I’ve surprised myself this year by discovering how much I love drawing. Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me in this direction, especially with the Archaeological Oddities comics. You can now buy Volume 1 on my Etsy store, along with my Make your Own Archaeological Oddities pack as recommended by Alfie (thanks to Lucinda Naylor for the photo).

photo (3)I have a few more comics projects brewing away too. You can head over to my tumblr site to see the more personal work I’m developing at the moment. All a huge learning curve, but a lot of fun.

Finally, I’ve been doing some work on archaeology and comics in school with Steph Moser and Alistair Jones. I’ve also written up a case study of a local school using books on archaeology in their caves topic, which should be published in English 4-11 online sometime early next year.

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Now I feel exhausted! Time for a rest in order to gather myself for whatever 2014 has to offer.

Dr H